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CUTTING DEFENSE SPENDING TAKES MORE THAN `NIMBY'

One of the biggest obstacles to reducing the U.S. defense budget has always been the reaction of Congress. Most of the members are in favor of a big "peace dividend," but when specific cuts are proposed, the cries of NIMBY can be heard across the land - "Not In My Back Yard."

Never was that more evident than in the response this week to the Pentagon's proposal to phase out 830 military Reserve and National Guard units, thus eliminating 140,000 jobs and saving $20 billion over six years.Because the proposed reductions would affect all 50 states, the complaints have come from every direction, including Utah. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, says he will fight what he considers to be excessive cuts, a view expressed by many others in Congress regarding units phased out on their particular turf.

Since any reduction in National Guard and Reserve units must be approved by Congress, the whole plan may become mired down in politics. For years, Congress had the same problem trying to close unnecessary military bases. Finally, it had to turn the job over to an independent commission.

Most of the current outcry has little to do with actual U.S. defense needs but is seen strictly in terms of local jobs. Garn says the National Guard cuts would cost Utah $12.5 million and 638 jobs.

Yet Utah is not hit as hard as some states. The reductions would cost California 12,775 jobs; New York, 9,865; Massachusetts, 8,473; Ohio, 8,041; Michigan, 7,212; Wisconsin, 6,546; and Illinois, 5,879. Ironically, some of the members of Congress protesting the impact in their home states are among those who have argued for bigger cuts in the defense budget.

As Defense Secretary Dick Cheney points out, in a world without the superpower Cold War, "it is vital that we make the kinds of adjustments in our forces that are required, not only in the active force, but also in the Reserves."

At a time when resources are clearly going to be fewer and tighter than in the past, "we have to get smaller," Cheney says. There's no real argument with that, even in Congress - or maybe even especially in a Congress looking for ways to take money out of defense and spend it on domestic programs.

But when the bite comes to a particular state or district, suddenly there is a frantic scramble to reject the reduction and put it somewhere else. But "somewhere else" also has members of Congress resisting just as hard. As one senator said, the cuts must be "distributed equitably." That's political talk meaning "anywhere but here."

Sadly, such an issue in Congress is not always seen in terms of what's best for the country, but what is best for the senator or representative. A Michigan representatave described the proposed cuts this way: "They're making it difficult for the members" (of Congress).

Cutting the size of the military, cutting the budget deficit, making tough but necessary decisions of any kind is always going to be difficult for the members and often for the people back home as well.

But that's what the people in Congress get the big salaries for - to serve as statesmen and make the hard choices. Simply declaring "not in my back yard" doesn't quite do it.